The Plastic Bag Issue – Westchester Update
By now, everyone realizes the environmental problems associated with single-use plastic bags freely given to retail customers. If you need a refresher, here’s one resource:
Retail plastic bags are one item for which it’s really easy for us to avoid adding to the earth or being incinerated with our trash:
- Get into the habit of carrying a few cloth or sturdy, reusable plastic tote bags when shopping.
- Keep tote bags handy in your car, or by your front door.
- If you forget, ask for a paper bag instead; they can be placed in your household paper recycling bin.
- If you end up with plastic bags you can’t reuse (for cat litter or dog poop, say), bring them to the recycling bins major grocery stores are required to provide; they get turned into durable products like deck lumber and furniture.
- DON’T put them in your commingled container recycle bins: they end up being removed from that waste stream and trashed.
State and municipal governments, responding to the evidence and citizen pressure, are pushing legislation to reduce or even eliminate the flow of single-use plastic carryout bags from retailers. Here’s the scoop on what’s happening in our area:
New York State: Assembly Bill A9953, still in Committee, “would ban the provision of plastic carryout bags, while placing a minimum 10-cent fee on paper carryout bags and reusable bags. This is the fee level in place in California, and accords with the recommendations made by the Plastic Bag Task Force.” After passage, there would be a 9-month period for stores to implement. Senate Bill S8257, in the Rules Committee, would simply ban plastic carryout bags, and would take effect immediately upon passage. Senate Bill S8793, in the Environmental Conservation Committee, says that a store “shall not provide a single-use carryout bag to a customer at point of sale”, and thus would apply to BOTH plastic bags and paper bags made from new (non-recycled) paper. According to Riverkeeper, at least 100 organizations have supported the Statewide bag ban: https://www.riverkeeper.org/news-events/news/preserve-river-ecology/100-organizations-urge-governor-cuomo-to-support-a-ban-on-plastic-bags/
Westchester County: The proposed Reusable Bag Initiative looks to eliminate single-use plastic bags for retail checkout. Stores and other sellers would be allowed to provide only heavier-duty reusable bags or bags made of recycled paper. The legislators are proposing a fee of no less than 10 cents for every bag provided by a seller as studies have shown that a fee encourages consumers to bring their own bags, and results in the reduction of waste.
Town of New Castle: A law passed in 2017 banned plastic carryout bags, and said that paper bags must be at least 40% recycled and carry a 10¢ charge.
Town of Bedford: In June, 2018, the Town adopted a local law patterned after the law in Suffolk County: Effective April 1, 2019, stores with more than 5,000 square feet of ground floor retail space are required to charge a fee of 10c for either a single-use plastic bag or paper grocery. This would cover their larger grocery and department stores. Small stores will not be covered, as the Reusable Bag Task Force determined that such stores distribute few single-use bags which are the subject of the law. Between now and the April 1, 2019 effective date, the Town will widely publicize and promote the use of reusable bags in partnership with the stores, Bedford 2020, other community organizations and schools.
Town of Lewisboro: A proposed law proposal states that single use plastic bags would be banned, and a charge of fifteen cents on 40% recycled paper bags would be required of most large supermarkets, grocery stores and convenience stores. Clothing stores and boutiques are exempt from charging for paper shopping bags which they often give to customers. Exemptions for paper fee would also be given to smaller stores, restaurant take-out and small pharmacies.
City of Rye and Villages of Mamaroneck and Larchmont: Laws adopted in 2011-13 say “Any person engaged in retail sales shall provide only reusable bags and/or recyclable paper bags as checkout bags to customers.”
Village of Hastings: A law similar to the ones in the Mamaroneck area was adopted in 2014.
Village of Pleasantville: On July 9, 2018, the Village passed a law that would ban plastic carryout bags after 6 months and until then impose a 10-cent fee on plastic or paper bags.
Conclusion: Clearly this issue is on “consuming” interest in many of our Westchester communities. Environmental Committees and Councils like TEAC are strongly urging their host communities to jump on the bandwagon and adopt local laws in advance of any encompassing rules from the County and State.
Here is a resource for those who would like to know more about banning plastic bags in Westchester: http://www.thereusablebaginitiative.org/
And, for information nationwide: check this page from the National Council of State Legislators: http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx
This is, of course, a worldwide issue, and here is a source of information about what other countries are doing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-out_of_lightweight_plastic_bags